Jane Horrocks, Nick Vivian and Wrangler // Cotton Panic!

Jane Horrocks and partner Nick Vivian were the instigators of this gig-theatre piece, which conveyed the story of the cotton famine in the North of England. It also featured the electronic band Wrangler, and was a show with a mixture of music, theatrical performance, films, and songs. The event took place at the Upper Campfield Market Hall, an appropriately Victorian venue that had blackened windows and a warm atmosphere - similar to the working conditions of a cotton mill. 

Three screens opened the show with a recording of Jane Horrocks, the actress clad-in-cotton and waving in and out in an almost hypnotic trance (visually similar to Jesse Kanda at MIF 2015). A sense of the busyness of the cotton machines was conveyed through the fast-paced music. Horrocks sang, in a folk style about the life of weavers in Manchester. She spoke about Manchester’s support for the freedom of slaves in the US and the cotton famine. In one moment Horrocks came into the crowd and repeatedly asked “will you help me?”. The light followed her white dress as she was lifted onto shoulders - it was almost angelic. Glenda Jackson, appearing on video, gave an affective speech on the starvation and sacrifice of a family in the famine. Faces of slaves morphed into each other as though they were one being. 

For TV in the late 20th century the late Fred Dibnah demolished many cotton mills. Many of the few that are still intact, such as Queen Street Cotton Mill and Helmshore Textile Museum are now closed due to funding cuts to local government. 10 of the 12 most struggling cities in the UK are in the North, including many of the towns where cotton was once king.  One of the factors for unemployment is that labour is cheaper for manufacturing jobs in other countries. 

Horrocks repeats “backwards, forwards, forwards”. A fast-paced film compilation ended the show, making a direct comparison between the cotton weavers (who were referred to as ‘indirect slaves’) and modern day factory workers in Asia. For some time, the media has highlighted the low wages for long hours in poor working conditions endured by these workers. Another image shown was of Donald Trump: reflecting the resurgence of right-wing politics in the Western world. 

In recent elections in the USA and UK however there have been high numbers of young voters turning out, a more liberal and less reactionary demographic. Bernie Sanders, popular among these young voters in the US, is also a supporter of Black Lives Matter, who also appear in the final video of Cotton Panic! Their slogan is 'not a moment, a movement'. The slogan highlights the constant need for progression both in politics and life, and of having a discussion about the real issues that matter, like social and financial equality. Now is a time of movement, a movement forwards. 

- Dominic Rogers


Links relevant to this diagnosis:

10 of 12 Most Struggling Cities in the Northern Powerhouse

Sweatshops in China

Why Did Lincoln Come to Manchester?

Fred Dibnah - Cotton Mill Chimney Felling

Jesse Kanda

Black Lives Matter